Dr. Browns dog Frieda next to our recommended dog food brand, “Hills Prescription Diet,” available at the Animal Clinic of Billings.

What Is The Best Food To Feed Your Dog?

Proper canine nutrition provides your dog with the right amounts of all of the specific nutrients they need to reach their full potential for growth, health, physical activity, and longevity. These days, there are countless brands of dog food to choose from, as well as many alternative feeding options.

The majority of us use store-bought dry and canned dog food because it’s easy to get and relatively inexpensive. However, did you know there are far better dog foods available than what most stores have to offer?

At The Animal Clinic of Billings, we have spent decades educating pet owners about nutrition for dogs of every size, age, medical condition, lifestyle, and nutritional need. Many of our clients are surprised to learn how important canine nutrition is to the quality of your dog’s life.

We would love to help develop specific dietary recommendations to meet the individual needs of your dog. If you’re unsure of your dog’s specific nutritional requirements or which dog food will allow them to live the longest and healthiest life possible, please call us to schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians today!


canine nutrition

Listed below are the fundamental components of a diet necessary to maintain proper canine nutrition:


Proteins are the building blocks of cells and are essential for cell growth, repair, and overall maintenance. By definition, proteins are complex molecules made up of amino acids. Most protein in dog foods comes from animal sources, although plant proteins (soy, peas, other legumes) are also used.


The most concentrated source of energy in the canine diet come from fats. Fats also supply fatty acids that play important structural and metabolic roles in the body. The majority of fats in canine diets come from animal sources, although plant oils are also used.


Carbohydrates are an essential class of macronutrients including starches and fiber. Starches are broken down by the body and converted to glucose, one if the most important energy sources for the body. Fibers are non-digestible carbohydrates that are essential for healthy digestion. Common sources of carbohydrates in canine diets include whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.


Vitamins are compounds essential in numerous physiologic processes. If they are not present in the correct amounts, serious illnesses can result.


Minerals are trace nutrients integral to many vital functions. The body’s demand for specific minerals changes with age and reproductive status.

A dog’s requirements for each of these macro- and micro-nutrients will change from puppyhood through adulthood and into their senior years, and a dog that is pregnant or nursing will have unique nutritional requirements as well. Because of this, it is important to select a dog food specifically designed for your dog’s life stage and lifestyle.

What is the best puppy food?

Puppy food is formulated to meet the increased nutritional demands of rapid growth and development. Puppies should be fed a scientifically formulated puppy food beginning at approximately four weeks of age, as they begin to wean off of their mother’s milk.

Young puppies do best when they eat at least 3 times per day. By 4 to 5 months of age, feeding frequency can be reduced to twice daily. Adhering to a strict feeding schedule will help establish a routine for your puppy that will, in turn, help with house training.

Overeating can become a problem in certain breeds if they are allowed to eat all they want, so do your best to monitor their weight and ask your veterinarian if your puppy might be developing any weight issues. Remember to refrain from overfeeding your puppy in an attempt to accelerate his or her growth, as growth rate is limited by genetics and excess energy will be converted to fat.

Each puppy is different, with individualized nutritional requirements. The right puppy food for your dog depends on many factors, including breed, size, growth rate, medical predispositions, and tendencies to overeat or self-regulate. In particular, large and giant breed puppies have different requirements for mineral and energy content than small and medium breed puppies, so it is important to feed these individuals a puppy food formulated for their breed type.

We recommend scheduling a nutritional consultation with one of our veterinarians to help you determine the best puppy food for your puppy.

What is the best dog food for middle-aged dogs?

No single dog food is ideal for all dogs. It is best to choose a brand that employs veterinary nutritionists, conducts extensive research on animal nutrition, performs long-term feeding trials to ensure the nutritional adequacy of each of their diets, and implements extensive quality-control testing.

Unfortunately, many manufacturers encountered commonly in the pet food marketplace do not meet these requirements. Manufacturers that do meet these guidelines include Hill’s, Purina, and Royal Canin.

Beyond selecting a good adult diet, it is essential to feed the correct amount. Even when feeding an ideal diet, overeating can still have serious consequences for your dog’s health. Often, the recommended feeding amounts listed on dog food packaging are too high, and result in over-feeding and weight gain. Your vet can help you calculate the correct amount of your dog’s specific diet to feed each day.

The best way to address excess weight or signs of potential malnutrition or dietary deficiency (underweight, poor haircoat, low energy, etc.) is by implementing a responsible feeding plan designed by your veterinarian and choosing a veterinarian-recommended well-balanced and nutritious adult dog food.

What is the best senior dog food?

Generally, we consider a dog to be a senior after age seven, although this does vary somewhat based on breed.

  • Small dogs – less than 20 pounds – 8 years of age
  • Medium dogs – 21 to 50 pounds – 8 years of age
  • Large dogs – 51 to 90 pounds – 6 years of age
  • Giant dogs – 91 pounds or more – 5 years of age

Every senior dog is different, and so are their nutritional needs as they age. As long as your senior dog is doing well on its current diet, then you may not need to change anything. However, it is not unusual for older dogs to develop health problems that could greatly benefit from special diets tailored to address these conditions.

Additionally, most senior dogs will have decreased caloric requirements as their metabolism slows, while their requirements for protein may increase as the efficiency of protein digestion and absorption decreases. Most senior diets are designed to accommodate this change in nutrient requirements by reducing the carbohydrate and fat content while increasing the amount of high quality protein.

Supplements for Senior Dogs

Supplements can certainly be helpful for some conditions in senior dogs. It’s important to remember that each dog’s individual needs are unique, so always ask your veterinarian before starting your dog on any supplements.

Being honest and open with your veterinarian about any supplements you’re giving or would like to give your dog is always best as supplements could have adverse effects on specific medical conditions or may interact in a dangerous way with any medications they are on.

What is the best dog food for overweight dogs?

Obesity has become a huge problem in dogs, no pun intended. Just like in humans, being overweight has a very long list of potential medical consequences, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Respiratory Disease
  • Heart Disease
  • Kidney Disease
  • Arthritis and decreased mobility
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Low energy

When a dog consumes more energy or food than their body uses for energy, those excess calories get stored as fat. Over time, fat will continue to accumulate, and the dog will become obese. The vast majority of dog obesity cases are simply the result of overfeeding, with lack of exercise also contributing. As long as a dog’s caloric intake exceeds the number of calories burned through activity and exercise the dog will continue to remain overweight, and his or her health will decline. If your dog is overweight or obese, it is essential to address it in a timely manner:

Fix your dog’s diet

The first step is to reduce your dog’s calorie intake. Implementing a diet low in starches and fat and high in fiber and protein will help your dog burn fat without feeling hungry. The right feeding methods and dog food recommendations should come from your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may recommend a prescription diet scientifically formulated to facilitate weight loss while maintaining satiety and preserving lean muscle mass.

Increase Exercise

Physical activity should be increased, both in frequency and duration. Work towards gradually increasing the length of exercise sessions as your dog’s level of fitness increases. Regular exercise helps to reduce appetite, change body composition, burn more calories, and increase metabolism.

Modify Feeding Habits

Cut down on treats, eliminate human food, and divide your dog’s daily food allotment into 3-4 meals to prevent your dog from feeling hungry.

What fats does your dog need?

Fats are vital in many processes in the body, including the maintenance of healthy skin, hair, and eyes, and the support of cognitive functions and proper energy levels. Additionally, fats are essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

Some types of fats, called essential fatty acids (EFAs), are integral to the composition of every cell in the body. Chief among these are linoleic acid, linolenic acid, and arachidonic acid. It is crucial to choose a high-quality dog food that provides healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins.

Do dogs need carbohydrates?

Even though dogs get a significant amount of energy from dietary protein and fats, carbohydrates are still an essential component of proper dog nutrition. Over 40,000 years of domestication, dogs have evolved to digest and utilize a much higher level of carbohydrates than their wild ancestors.

Because of this, carbohydrates are an integral component of a balanced canine diet, providing starches for energy and fiber to maintain digestive health. Many carbohydrate-rich ingredients also furnish a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and proteins.

Vitamins for dogs

As long as you have instituted a well-balanced canine nutrition program that features a high-quality life stage-appropriate food, correct portion control, and healthy snacks or treats, your dog should receive all the vitamins he or she needs to maintain optimal health.

There are some cases in which supplementation of specific vitamins may be helpful in addressing a health problem. If you wonder whether your dog could benefit from implementing additional vitamins into his or her nutrition program, we recommend scheduling a consultation with one of our veterinarians to discuss your dog’s particular vitamin needs.

Feeding dogs table scraps or human food

It’s no secret that most of us like to feed our dogs human food every once in a while. A small amount of cooked or raw vegetables (broccoli, green beans carrots, etc.) or cooked low-fat protein (boneless skinless chicken, fish, lean pork, lean hamburger, etc.) can be a healthy addition to your dog’s diet.

We recommend that when giving your dog new types of human food, you offer them only a small amount initially, and that you introduce only one item at a time. This will help you identify if your dog has any digestibility issues or intolerances to the ingredient.

Even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal, remember to always review your diet plan with your veterinarian and discuss any of the foods you’re giving your dog. In general, feeding high-quality dry dog food and adding a small amount of whole foods can be a healthy way of feeding your dog.

We recommend that you limit the amounts of any human food plus dog treats to a maximum of 20% of your dog’s total caloric intake, ensuring that at least 80% of their calories come from their maintenance diet. Remember that the calories from any treats or human food must be accounted for with a corresponding decrease in the amount of dog food fed to avoid weight gain.

What about raw diets for dogs?

Raw diets have become popular in recent years. Their proponents claim that they are more natural for dogs, better preserve the food’s natural nutrients, and are more digestible. However, there are no proven benefits to feeding a raw diet, and there are some significant risks. 

Conventional processed diets do not have a significantly lower level of nutrients, and the cooking process actually increases the digestibility of many ingredients. Raw diets are frequently contaminated with dangerous bacteria, such as Salmonella, Listeria, E.coli, and Campylobacter, which can make you, your dog, and your family members seriously ill. 

 In addition, many raw diets contain bones, which can break a dog’s teeth (necessitating extraction) and cause serious injuries to their GI tract.

Animal Clinic of Billings veterinary technician Mandy Smith and her two dogs

Schedule an appointment to discuss a nutrition plan for your dog

Since 1981, our veterinarians and veterinary support staff have helped educate tens of thousands of dog owners about optimal canine nutrition. We love assisting pet owners in discovering the positive effects of optimal dog nutrition on the bodies and minds of their furry, four-legged family members.

If you would like to discuss canine nutrition with one of our veterinarians, please contact us or call one of our receptionists to schedule an appointment!



Let our highly trained and experienced team of veterinarians and veterinary technicians help you keep your pet as happy and healthy as they can be.

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providing our region’s companion animals and their families what they need and deserve since 1981

1414 10th St. West, Billings MT 59102